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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Letter from Toronto

I live in a rural area with no public transit system. None. You can't even take a cab out here; we depend exclusively on our huge gas-guzzling pickup trucks and carbon-spewing SUVs to get around. So, it's been with some amusement that I've followed Toronto's new mayor Rob Ford's first few days in office. I'm especially amused by the crib death of the city's elaborate and expensive Transit City project which aims to put dedicated streetcar lanes on major thoroughfares like Sheppard and Eglinton. I wondered why the citizens of Canada's World Class City were so attached to streetcars over the more proletarian buses that the rest of the province rides every day. I thought I'd better ask someone who lives in downtown Toronto and who doesn't own a car to explain it to me. So, I fired of an email to my friend and fellow blogger EMG, who writes at Edward Michael George. Here's our correspondence:
Dear EMG:

You live near the St Clair streetcar line that buggered up the entire neighbourhood for years and ran millions of dollars over budget. Was it worth it?

Can you explain to me what the big friggin' deal is about streetcars in Toronto? Transit City proposes to tear up major traffic arteries like Sheppard & Eglinton, disrupt commerce and traffic for God knows how long to replace two lanes of cars with expensive dedicated streetcar lines. Is this an improvement over regular buses that share the street with cars? Surely it can't be cheaper to build all these Transit City "LRT" routes than to just put more buses on the streets?

Is riding a regular bus such a hellish experience for the poor straphangers, and conversely is a streetcar such a quantum leap in cost, efficiency and comfort? I just don't get it. Why can't you urban elites just take the bus?

Can you explain this mystery to us poor hicks out in the country?


EMG replied:
Dear Poor Hick Out in the Country,

I don't normally condescend to speak to the turnip 'n' dirt people--in your case I'll make the exception. Buses simply aren't good enough for us. Buses are for you and all the other thick-fingered, dirty-eared, cannon-fodder types of your village. A place where, I suspect, everyone is related (and not distantly) to one another; a place that I'm vaguely familiar with as once I drove through it on my way to a fashionable vineyard and spa run by the most delightful homosexual couple (recently wed).

Don't streetcars remind you of metropolitan San Francisco? (Think Rice-A-Roni if this isn't ringing any bells for you ... Oh! Ringing any bells! A kind of a pun!) That's the sort of place I want to live in. And subways? New York City, surely. Though I'll admit that I like to stir the pot a bit with my bien pensant chums by referring to it contrarian-ly as "the tube." Cheeky! LOL.

Perhaps you are wondering how we pay for it all? A special talent that separates us cosmopolites from you potato proles: we've discovered huge reservoirs of cash way up our shiny white butts. A seemingly endless supply. And there's any amount of other useful things up there too. This reply for instance.

At an imponderable distance,

An urban elitist

I responded:
Dear EMG:

I expected that it was one of those "we're a World Class City" issues. Toronto is a World Class City; World Class Cities have "light rail" transit; ergo Toronto must have streetcars. It's a Richard Florida creative class thing - the creative class likes streetcars, and if Toronto wants to attract the creative class, it must have streetcars. Ditto for Gay Pride parades, a favourite of the creative class, which also squeeze government subsidies out of the hicks. I expect that Dalton McGuinty will soon use the same argument to announce tax breaks for Toronto's fair-trade coffee shops, organic arugula-mongers and sustainable solar-powered yoga parlours.

Thanks for enlightening me.


There you have it, folks - Transit City explained. Go to it, Mayor Ford.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And how about those Bixi bikes that Tremblay is pushing onto the rest of the world. Montreal is now saying it will pick up the 25 million dollar deficit.

The big eco joke is that most people want to use the bikes one way, i.e. downhill to work, but then they don't want to bike uphill back. Result: Trucks have to come and bring the surplus bikes to the beginning northern parts of Montreal and thus create pollution.